Cineworld and Empire cinemas prepare to go head-to-head in Ipswich town centre

Building work is under way at Cineworld in Cardinal Park. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Building work is under way at Cineworld in Cardinal Park. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

With just two weeks to go before the opening of the new 12-screen Empire cinema in the Buttermarket centre, Ipswich’s other multiplex is showing its determination not to be left behind.

The builders have moved in at Cineworld on Cardinal Park and its foyer now has clear evidence of work under way.

The first-floor Starbucks is now closed and signs say the work there will continue until July – but cinema bosses are staying tight-lipped about what is happening.

Some customers have been told that the cinema is creating a new screen to add to the 11 it already has – and to match Empire’s number of screens.

Others have heard that a new family restaurant is being created at the site, again to compete with Empire which has new restaurants nearby as part of the Buttermarket redevelopment.

A spokesman for Cineworld would only say: “We will let you know as soon we have more information.” But people registered with the cinema’s website have been told: “We’re excited to announce that we’re about to undergo some changes to make your local Cineworld Ipswich even better!”

Meanwhile work on the Empire has now reached the “finishing touch” stage with final plans in place for its grand opening on Friday, March 31.

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The previous day there is a gala opening for special guests.

The opening of the Empire will almost double the number of cinema screens in Ipswich. At present there are 13 – 11 at Cineworld and two at the Ipswich Film theatre – the new cinema will bring the number up to 25.

That will be the largest number of individual screens ever seen in the town and reflects the growth of cinema audiences over the last three decades.

The number of annual cinema admissions in Britain rose from 54m in 1984 to 168m last year (which was slightly down on 2015). But still the number of cinema-goers is only a fraction of that before the days of television and other entertainments.

In 1946, the year the largest-ever cinema audience was recorded, more than 1.6bn trips to the pictures were recorded across the country.

And film bosses are confident towns like Ipswich will supply a large enough audience – cities like Cambridge and Norwich will still have more screens than this town.

• Last month film-goers watching Fifty Shades DCarker were evacuated from Cineworld, see more here